For the past week, a group of Ramapo students have been performing a self-devised show, “The Big Unknown 1.5°,” in the Adler Theater. The students were given just over a month to workshop and write a show on any topic they wanted. In the end, they crafted an audience-involved show about climate change.
The show is unconventional in many ways beginning with the set design. The audience is invited to sit at tables, stools and up on risers covered in pillows while the cast roams around, interacting with them. The environment is colorful and full of signs with sayings apt for climate protests, “There is no planet B,” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance” being among them.
The show begins with a sort of roll call, each cast member standing wherever they are in the room to introduce themselves —not a character, just who they are. This sense of true self is an integral part of the show because much of the script is based off their personal experiences with nature and climate change.
A set of “community guidelines” were also set, the cast calling out different values that the show must have in order to function.
“Listen to understand, not to respond,” said one cast member. “Tolerate the discomfort,” called another. The audience was also welcome to add anything they found important to the baseline rules.
Beyond the actors themselves, the show included experiences of others, like Two Clouds from the Ramapough Lenape Nation. A video was shown where he spoke about his connection with nature, which prompted the audience to take part in a writing exercise.
On small pieces of paper, everyone was invited to write about their connection to “place.” If audience members left their piece of paper, it would be added to an installation assembled in the Berrie Center after the show.
Students shared their connection with place; in one abstract bit, performers called out different sayings about it.
“My roots are so well grown, I don’t want to leave,” one cast member called out before the lights went dark.
The majority of the show consisted of individual pieces and stories from the cast. They shared stories of hiking in the Ramapo reservation, losing a fondly remembered spot to Hurricane Sandy, reading T.S. Elliot’s “The Wasteland” in high school, fighting with siblings over reusable water bottles and so much more.
These separate bits often began or concluded with a statement of a date in history that symbolized a move toward negative climate change. Some of these dates included the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the testing of the first nuclear bomb and the 2010 BP oil spill.
After each date, the cast member shared the time until midnight —a reference to the doomsday clock. By the end of the show, when dates had reached present day, the clock was only minutes from midnight, which freshman Julia O’Toole said symbolized that we are the closest we have ever been to the end.
“We’ve convinced ourselves we can take up so much more of this earth than we deserve,” said Sara Gustavsen in her feature.
The show ended with Greta Thunberg’s powerful speech from the album “NOACF” by The 1975. During this, one cast member slowly unspooled thread and connected it to many of the people in the room by their finger. The web grew more tangled and taut with each new connection.
The impressiveness of this performance is hard to explain in so few words. Most of the students involved in the show were not theater majors, and even though many devised theater shows take years to make, students devised this show in a month.
By creating an interactive piece that called upon its audience to consider their own experiences with nature and climate, all who were present were deeply involved in the emotion of the show. Whether creating a comical moment, sharing a serious story or performing a musical tribute, there was not a single moment where one could look away.
Though the show has finished its run of Wednesday, the impact will remain in the community of Ramapo.